Poet and Savannah State professor Chad Faries can now add memoirist to his list of occupational descriptors. His new book, an unflinching exploration of his upbringing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula titled Drive Me Out of My Mind, hits shelves this week.
It is a personal reflection; memories framed by the 24 houses he lived in over the course of his first 10 years on this earth. Raised by a young, single mother and her three sisters, Faries sifts through the impressions that remain from a childhood surrounded by an extended family consisting of blood relations, party guests, neighbors and male suitors – some noble, others far from it.
The book is as far from the traditional style of memoir as Faries’ youth was from the average American childhood. His literary tendencies remain rooted in poetry, and his heavily layered imagery sways back and forth between actual events and fantastical interpretations. The effect is both gritty and surreal.
Rather than bind the narrative to a well–researched chronology of events, Faries set out to capture how he sees that crucial first decade, and how he experienced it – the impressions of a tipsy 5-year-old grabbing attention at a party that included strippers, his step–grandfather and a soundtrack of Black Sabbath.
Recounting the tale from infancy through elementary school, the child narrator is too young to have found true north on a moral compass, and so doesn’t pass judgment. He observes and relates, capturing both reality and the fantasy world he creates to escape from moments that get become emotionally overwhelming.
Faries sat down on his porch with Connect Savannah last week to discuss the writing process, his family and his new penchant for non–fiction.
On beginning to write:
“I started writing it when I was a Fulbright fellow in Budapest. It really took getting out of the United States and separating myself from that experience to be able to start writing about it ... Maybe the interest by some of my Hungarian friends was the impetus of it because they thought it was fascinating Americana. You have hippies and wild women and a gypsy lifestyle. I wrote the first couple chapters, and I thought it was really freeing.”
On poetic license vs. reality:
“The moments when I’m taking poetic license ... I try to make it fairly obvious. I’m not pulling one over on the reader. When I’m being magical, I think it’s clearly magical ... There’s another part where I say I need to re–write the story because it gets to be too much, so this is what I’m going to say happened, and I go off on a couple of paragraphs of something fantastic, but I’ve just told the reader I’m making it up because I don’t want to deal with the reality of the situation.”
On working from memory:
“That was done deliberately because I wanted it to be this fantastic story of how I perceived everything that was going on during the ‘70s. If I started asking questions then it wouldn’t have been my reality, it would have been their reality. The one thing I worked out with my mom was the houses, so all the houses in that sequence are exactly right. There are a couple of times when we forgot houses – that’s why I created some of the ‘lost chapters.’ The writer is reflecting on the process of creating this memoir.”
On his family (part one):
“They were here for the Savannah Book Festival reading ... It was a good crowd, maybe 150 people, and characteristic of my family, they were late. I’m telling this audience a story, and I said, ‘Interestingly enough, these people are gonna be here, but they’re not because they are somewhere arguing about a parking spot. I hope that they make it.’ Everyone kind of laughed, and I continued ... I’m looking toward the back, and I see these people coming down the stairs. It’s my mom, and she says, ‘I’m here,’ and everyone turns around and gives her an ovation. That was a really great moment.”
On his family (part two):
“I think my family knows they’ve made a lot of mistakes and that they’re a little wild, but I tried to treat them with dignity. I never pass judgment. I think they’re OK with it ...The reality of it is when my mom fills in the blanks, it’s much more risque then what I write about.”
On the role of song lyrics as literary device:
“For the most part it was to contextualize each experience. Music was a really big part of my childhood. When I listen to classic rock, it really does feel like it captures that decade ... Some of the lyrics have significance in the different chapters themselves. The title of the book itself comes from ‘Satellite of Love’ [by Lou Reed], which was almost the title, Satellites of Love was what we were going to call it.”
On the imminent passing of his grandmother:
"I'm doing everything I can to rush back to the Upper Peninsula because she's dying ... I'm bummed out about that. Maybe this book is celebrating her as well. If anybody buys it, they can think about that wonderful legacy, this crazy grandmother who had these four wild daughters. I guess that's the testament to her life in the ‘70s. She's really something else ... If I could do it again, I'd dedicate it to my grandma, but I think I dedicated it to all the crazy family members."
Faries' memoir, Drive Me Out of My Mind, is available starting June 21. You can find it locally at the Book Lady or at E. Shaver Booksellers. It's published by Emergency Press. For more info, visit www.chadfaries.com